Hot and savoury: fermented bean chili sauce

Chinese cuisines shine at mixing and blending of flavours

This is not only aided by superior culinary techniques that can mix natural flavouring, but also with the help of a whole line-up of seasoning. Aside from salt, vinegar, sugar and essence soups, which are representative seasoning, pastes, soy sauce, wine, and stinky tofu are all commonly used seasoning in Chinese cooking. Paste made from the fermentation of beans was regarded highly in ancient China. Once it was the food for the upper class. When treating guests at banquets, bean-sauces must be served, since each kind of meat has its matching paste. Experienced eaters will know the kind of great food to be served just by seeing the type of paste. In time, pastes became important seasoning, from which a whole series of seasonings were developed, including soy sauce, bean paste, black fermented beans and more. Pastes made from beans are very much a Chinese specialty sauce. It holds an important place in Chinese culinary history, or even the culinary timeline of the entire world.

Broad bean chili sauce (douban lajiang) is a typical condiment of Sichuan province, known for its tingling spicy cuisine. It is a mixture of fermented broad bean paste and chili paste, with a ratio of either 50:50 or 60:40.

The broad beans are first soaked in clear water and then heated to 80 – 85 ˚C in a 2% sodium hydroxide solution to separate the bean from the peel. The lye is washed off with water. The beans are then soaked in water again until they are completely saturated, after which they are steamed. The steamed beans are mixed with wheat flour with a ratio of 1:3 (beans : flour). The mixture is inoculated with 0.15 – 3% of qu, the traditional Chinese mixture of molds, and transferred to the fermentation vessel. The fermentation will heat the mass itself to 40˚C, after which a brine solution on 60 – 65˚C is injected into the mass with ratio of 140 kg of brine solution to 100 kg of mass. This will bring the temperature to approximately 45˚C, which is maintained for about 10 days.

Meanwhile, fresh chili peppers have been pickled with salt and left for three months, after which the mixture has been ground to a paste. The fermented bean paste is mixed with the chili paste and left to ferment for another half a month. A number of condiments can be added to the end product; e.g.: sesame oil, spices, sugar, rice wine, etc. Each manufacturer will have its own proprietary mix to reach a unique flavour.

The single most famous type of broad bean chili paste is from Pixian county in Sichuan. A special company has been established to cash in on its fame, named after the county: Pixian Bean Paste Co., Ltd. The picture accompanying this introduction shows the range of different pastes produced by this company.

Pixian fermented bean paste has received DOC status, like the Jinhua ham introduced earlier in this blog. No manufacturer outside Pixian will be allowed to sell fermented soy bean paste as Pixian fermented bean paste. The local government has established a research centre to improve the production process.


In 2018, Pixian Bean Paste, whose brand was evaluated at RMB 65.6 billion, ranked top among geographical indications concerning processed food nationwide. The popular paste has been exported to more than 80 countries and regions.

I have found and translated a flow chart of the production process. It also indicates 4 critical control points (CCP).

The following table listing the output of Pixian douban during recent years indicates the success of the DOC status.

Year Output (mt)
2006 200,000
2008 350,000
2009 470,000
2010 600,000
2013 960,000

The following video shows the production process of Pixian douban.

Peter Peverelli is active in and with China since 1975 and regularly travels to the remotest corners of that vast nation. He is a co-author of a major book introducing the cultural drivers behind China’s economic success.


4 thoughts on “Hot and savoury: fermented bean chili sauce

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